I have always been a Type A, bite off more than I can chew, go-get-em kind of girl. As far back as I can remember, I have taken on many projects and responsibilities and have had to juggle at least a couple of tasks simultaneously. Multitasking has always been second-nature to me. And I never worried about it. But then I became a mom and realized there is a whole new level of multitasking.
Cooking dinner while wearing a baby and monitoring the destruction of a playroom half a house away became a shocking new reality for me. At any moment, as a mom, scenarios like this are the norm. You are regularly taking care of multiple things at once, which can be challenging. After a couple of years of practice, I really thought I had gotten it down. I was pretty proud of my ability to handle it all. And then, I became a single working mom.
After my husband passed suddenly in 2017, I began understanding an even more complicated level of multitasking prowess. Suddenly, I had to figure out a way to raise two small children alone, learn a new city and build a new community, take care of a household without the help of a partner, and make ends meet with two jobs. To say it has been a challenging few years is a giant understatement. Multitasking, it seems, is something that, whether I like it or not, I have to learn how to do well.
Multitasking Is Not Ideal, But It’s Common
Some studies suggest that multitasking can reduce productivity by 40% in some people.1 Although it may seem like you are getting more done when you juggle more than one task at a time, studies show that you may actually just be doing more things, but slower and less efficiently.1 Limiting the number of tasks you try to do at once to no more than two or blocking time (focusing on one thing for 20 minutes before moving on) seems to help. But that can be hard to do when you are a mom, even harder when you’re a working mom. And significantly harder when you’re a single working mom.
Mothers generally spend ten hours more multitasking a week than fathers.2 Most of these extra hours are spent juggling home life and childcare tasks. Not surprisingly, multitasking can cause these moms to experience feelings of stress, psychological distress, and work-family conflict.
But Sometimes Multitasking is Unavoidable
In a perfect world, the advice to “just focus on one thing at a time” sounds ideal. But the reality of a mom’s busy life doesn’t lend itself to such a simple solution. When you’re a multitasking mom because you have to be, you must find the best way to get your many tasks done. Here are some tips for managing healthy multitasking:
7 Tips for Managing Multitasking
1. Establish work hours and stick with them.
I have a dedicated office space set up in my home. I make it a point to go into my office space at set hours each day. This helps me focus on the work that needs to be done without getting distracted by all the other home and child-related tasks that need doing. I still have plenty of distractions with my kids needing me, but they know that when mommy is in her office, it’s her “work time.” While not every day is perfect, having established work hours at home helps me stay on track.
2. Offer your full attention at work or home.
If I am working, I focus on the task at hand. If one of my children comes in needing something, I ask them to give me five minutes to finish my task. Once I have completed (or at least come to a stopping point), I focus entirely on my child’s needs. Giving my full attention to the task in front of me, even for a short time, helps my productivity and keeps my stress levels down.
3. Combine mental and physical tasks.
I have become a pro at getting the most out of the time I do “mindless” work. For instance, I’ll listen to or watch a presentation or video while I fold laundry. Or I will make a list of my to-do’s for the day while eating breakfast. Or I will make some necessary phone calls while I’m on my morning walk while my kids ride bikes. If you can combine physical (but mindless) tasks with mental tasks, you will save a bit of time and stress.
4. Plan ahead as much as possible.
I am a planner by nature, but I always have a better week when I plan my days on Sunday evenings. I use a paper planner because I’m just old-fashioned that way. Every Sunday, I will write down my schedule and all the things I need to accomplish that week. Each evening before bed, I will glance at my list to see what I may need to prepare for the coming day.
5. Stay organized.
Organization has always been key for me. Keeping my office organized helps me to focus on my work mentally. Keeping my home organized helps me get things done quickly and efficiently, whether it’s making dinner or preparing some crafts to keep the kids busy.
Within my list of things to do for the week, I prioritize what must be done that week. If I can focus on those few essential things that week, I can better give myself grace for the other things that may get pushed to the back burner. Accomplishing my prioritized tasks helps me feel productive and not so guilty when I don’t knock out the whole to-do list.
7. Ask for help.
This one is probably the most important. Being a mom is hard. Being a working mom is hard. Being a single working mom is hard. So asking for help is vital. Whether you have to have your mom or mother-in-law come to keep the kids busy for a few hours once a week or you hire a nanny or babysitter a few times a week, do what you need to do to get help. Perhaps you’d rather hire someone to clean your house? Or maybe you’d rather employ an in-home nanny so you can better focus on work a few hours a week? Whatever you need, don’t feel ashamed or afraid to ask for help when you feel overwhelmed.